Al Jensen rubbed his hand over what looked like a week's worth of growth on his chin.

"All this?" he said. "It grew during the game."

Double overtime will do that to you. So will 36 saves, many of them near misses by the New York Islanders, who could easily have scored on several. But Jensen turned them away and helped give the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory.

"That was the longest game I ever played in," he said. "It kept going and going and going."

But the pucks didn't. And for a man who endured a chiropractor and arthroscopic surgery earlier in the season, only to catch a puck in the head in last night's first period, a couple of overtimes weren't so tough.

"Al made the great saves; he came up big," left wing Lou Franceschetti said. "Last year Billy Smith won the series against us with great goaltending. That's what wins the short series and we're giving it back to them."

Coach Bryan Murray has been secretive with his choices for goalie in the playoffs. He led off with Pat Riggin, who has played most of the season and had 14 saves in Wednesday night's 4-3 overtime victory. With Riggin showing good form, Jensen didn't expect to start last night.

"I kind of expected Pat to start the first game," he said. "Pat has played most of the year. But Bryan told me that we both would play, and he kept his word."

What started out as a pleasant surprise turned into an 81 minute 23 second ordeal. And it looked like Jensen might go right back to the disabled list, where he has spent much of the year; a long slap shot hit his head with 13:14 left in the first period.

Jensen, who has been plagued by a bad back and left knee, fell to the ice.

"It just stunned me," he said. "It didn't really hurt. That's why I wear a mask. I got hit in the nose with a puck about five years ago and some wire stuck there. This was nothing."

Jensen' recovery from his other injuries was just as quick. He underwent arthroscopic surgery Feb. 7 to correct a tight fibrous band in his left knee. Murray thought he might be out for the year. But he returned to win seven of his last eight starts. He showed some of his early form of last season, when he was named to the NHL all star team before suffering a back injury.

"I felt Al was close to the top of his game," Murray said. "I thought it might be the time to put him in. The Islanders played as well as I've seen them in some time. Without Al playing the game that he did, they could easily have had two or three more goals."

Jensen's virtuoso performance included three stops of rapid fire shots in the second period.

The Islanders' only goal came on a combination that was hard to stop. With 12:19 left in the third period, Mike Bossy's slap shot from just inside the blueline hit Jensen's left leg and bounced off. Jensen turned to his right to look for it, but Brian Trottier found it on the other side and flicked it in.

As for who starts Saturday in Long Island, that's a secret.

"It doesn't matter to me," Jensen said. "Your guess is as good as mine."